In the midst of some relatively poor Celtics basketball in the first month of the season some rumors have been swirling about possibly bringing Gordon Hayward off of the bench for a bit. The Celtic forward had this to say about a possible switch to a bench role: “For me, I’m happy to be on the court, No. 1, more than anything and, No. 2, whatever I can do to help us win, I said it before the season, it’s whatever to me. We have to figure something out because for whatever reason we’re not playing our best basketball right now.” I think he’s starting to realize it might be in his best interest to reintegrate himself in a bench role for an extended period of time. It’ll not only help him in regards to getting more touches but also can help him ease himself back up to speed playing against inferior talent to what he’s seeing nightly in the starting lineup. Hayward has struggled as he is shooting at the worst clip of his career (39.6 FG 31.9 3FG 76.2 FT). His PPG average (9.9) is way below his career mark (15.5) and it’s the lowest it’s been since his rookie season (5.4). It’s evident on fastbreaks and other opportunities to drive that Hayward isn’t comfortable yet as he isn’t as aggressive as we have grown to see him in the past. Situations where he would usually force the issue he’s been letting up and passing off to others. While the concept of this is all well and good it’s made him one dimensional and teams are playing him to pass. Spoiler Alert: He keeps falling into the trap. He’s been quite inefficient as well as his PER (12.8) is lower than the league average by over two points (15).
If Hayward is going to the bench who is going to assume the 5th spot in the starting lineup? This is where Brad can get very creative. In the playoffs last season, he regularly jumbled lineups based on matchups as 8 different players started a game in the postseason and the only three to start every game were Tatum, Rozier, and Horford. Here are the main candidates I would expect to fill this void in the starting 5 if they do elect to send Hayward to the bench.
Starting 67 games last season and 12 in the postseason Baynes has experience manning the middle for the Green. He’s all of Australia and can really give bigs a hard time with his motor and fearlessness on the defensive end. Yes, he gets dunked on, a ton, and I’m here to tell you that is a good thing. The reason it’s a good thing is because he isn’t afraid and puts his body on the line on a nightly basis because he wants to win and wants to win badly. He’d let Giannis pile drive him all the way through the earth’s core if he knew that meant the Celtics would get a win. He had led the Celtics in defensive rating last year (96.6) and has begun this year a little bit above that (99). He’s a wrecking ball in the paint and can muscle other big men around.
Another factor in why I see Baynes as a prime candidate to start is to push Al Horford back to the 4. He’s played out of position at the 5 and he’s had to deal with some really tough centers (Nurkic, Drummond, Valanciunas, Vucevic, etc.) who all killed the Celtics in the paint and on the boards (20th in rebound % as a team). What Baynes brings is the ability to cover these centers and let Al focus more on rim protection/switching rather than have him preoccupied with some Oaf down low. If he isn’t anything else he’s solid and you know exactly what you’re going to get on a given night: effort, defense, some threes (I guess that’s just a thing nowadays), and a gnarly (yes, I did use the word gnarly) man bun.
Oh Mook. Watching Morris play some of the best basketball of his career this year has warmed my heart to no end. Posting career highs in PPG, RPG, FG%, 3FG%, and FT% Morris has been phenomenal and it’s a blessing with how bad this team has played as a whole. Imagine if he hadn’t been playing this well, the Celtics might be more like 5-8 rather than 7-6 and in a whole lot more uncomfortable spot. Everyone knows the story about Morris. He shoots literally every single time he touches the ball it seems and operates as an automatic offensive spark off of the bench. His 50.4 FG% and 48.4 3FG% are splits that could really jumpstart this team and help remedy their issue with starting out games flat. His energy and ability to knock down shots can shoot some life into a relatively lifeless start to the season. He’s not afraid to shoot and at this rate, they might even all just go in with how he’s been firing to start. There’s also the potential comedic effect of him doing something outrageous as seen below.
A leader in the locker room and a leader by example on the court, Smart could see himself starting some games. Lots of NBA teams have elite guard pairings and having Smart’s defensive ability in the starting 5 will help this team. He’s a pitbull and boasts the 4th best mark in defensive rating among guards who play more than 20 minutes per game (96.5). This type of elite defense can bolster the Celtic backcourt in matchups against teams like Portland, Houston, Golden State, etc, who have two elite guards in their backcourt. He’s also arguably been the best facilitator on this team thus far as he’s dropping 6.4 assists per 36 minutes and trails only Kyrie in assist percentage as they sit at 28.9% and 23.8% respectively. This ability to defend at a high level and run the offense makes Smart a prime candidate for some starts down the road for Coach Stevens.
The last candidate I can see getting some starts is Semi. Stevens shocked everybody last season when he inserted Ojeleye into the lineup in game 5 of first round last year to guard Giannis. This season as well, Ojeleye got a start against the Greek Freak as Jaylen Brown missed a game. Brad trusts Semi’s ability to defend and make it difficult for Giannis. It remains to be seen if Brad would deploy Ojeleye versus somebody of a similar stature like Anthony Davis but he could for all we know.
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